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West Coast Trail Itineraries: Ideas and Advice for 5, 6, 7 + 8 Days

Hiking the West Coast Trail is a once in a lifetime experience for many. With this in mind as well as the remote location and logistics required to get there, most WCT hikers arrive with a plan.

For some, this may be a strict itinerary of chosen campgrounds. For others, there may be some flexibility.

In this post, I will be sharing more than a dozen West Cost Trail itineraries, designed to inspire and inform your own trip planning.

Looking across sandy beach with huge waterfall on left and camping area in distance
Tsusiat Falls

Part of our West Coast Trail series, you may also find these other articles helpful:

JR is looking up at a huge old growth tree on the West Coast Trail
The West Coast Trail travels through some beautiful old growth forest

Here’s what to expect in the following post:

This post was published in Jan 2022. The West Coast Trail is located on the traditional territory of the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht, and Pacheedaht First Nations.

Planning your West Coast Trail hike

Before getting into the specific itineraries, let’s talk about some factors that will define your WCT planning. Click here to skip ahead to the West Coast Trail itineraries.

Hiking direction

The West Coast Trail can be hiked northbound or southbound from each of the three trailheads – Gordon River, Pachena Bay and Nitinaht Narrows.

The choice of which direction to hike the WCT must be finalised at the time of making a reservation.

If you’re reading this before making your West Coast Trail reservation, the following information will also be helpful to choose which direction to hike and which trailhead to start at.

Side silhouette of hikers on coastal section of the West Coast Trail
Hikers traversing one of the West Coast Trail’s coastal sections

Mandatory orientation

All West Coast Trail hikers must complete a Parks Canada orientation before starting the trail. For this reason, it’s important to factor the orientation into your trip planning.

Prior to 2020, West Coast Trail orientation sessions lasted around an hour and featured a video.

Hikers were allowed to attend an orientation at at a Parks Canada office of their choice, on their start day or the afternoon before.

Orientation sessions took place at:

  • 10am and 2pm at Pachena Bay
  • 10am and 2pm at Gordon River
  • 8am and 3.30pm at Nitinaht Visitor Centre

In 2021, a video link was sent to hikers one week in advance of their starting date.

Hikers then needed to check in at the Parks Canada office at their starting trailhead, on their start day or the afternoon before. The adapted orientation was 20-25 minutes long and was available on demand.

It is unknown at the time of writing which orientation style will be in place for the 2022 season.

Tides

The West Coast Trail features multiple mandatory and optional coastal sections. To cross some of these coastal sections safely, the tide must be below a certain height.

The most significant tidal problem on the West Coast Trail is from Beach Access A to Thrasher Cove (65km to 69km). Here, tides below 2.4m tides are required to pass safely, with 1.8m required at Owen Point (67km).

Hiking between between Access A to Thrasher Cove is popular as it offers the chance to see sea caves and surge channels. It is also slightly shorter than the alternative route through the forest, which features some of the most difficult terrain on the entire West Coast Trail.

If hiking this coastal section is a priority, I’d recommend planning your itinerary around it. A night at nearby Thrasher Cove campground may be required.

To learn more about crossing coastal sections safely, check out our WCT tide guide.

Sunset colours in sky behind set up tent on sandy beach, surrounded by driftwood
Camping at Klanawa Beach on the West Coast Trail

Ferries

There are two ferry crossings on the West Coast Trail:

  • Gordon River at kilometre 75/0, runs 9.30am to 3.30pm
  • Nitinaht Narrows at kilometre 32.2/42.8, runs 8.45am to 4.30pm

Outside of these times, there is no safe way to cross either river.

The Gordon River ferry is located at the very end (or start) of the West Coast Trail. Hikers heading southbound must plan ahead to ensure correct timing.

Those who miss the ferry are forced to camp on the tiny Gordon River beach for the night or backtrack towards Thrasher Cove. The Gordon River beach has no outhouse, food storage or water source.

Transportation

Usually traversed in one direction only, WCT hikers start at one trailhead and then finish at another. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary to think about transportation logistics in advance.

Depending on where you are travelling from and by what means, you may not arrive at your starting trailhead until late in the day. In that case, you will need consider how far it is safe to travel that same day.

Likewise, it is also crucial to think about hiking distances on your very last day on the trail.

Many northbound hikers take the West Coast Trail Express bus from Pachena Bay to Gordon River after finishing the WCT. Departing at 1.45pm, hikers must be prepared for a fairly short day (or a very early start) to be on time for the bus.

Read more: West Coast Trail Transportation: Logistics, Schedules, Parking + More

Looking across rocks (some covered in seaweed) towards headland and ocean at Thrasher Cove
Thrasher Cove

West Coast Trail difficulty

There’s no doubt about it, the West Coast Trail is a challenging hiking experience.

The difficulty increases if you choose a shorter itinerary. An eight day thru-hike, for example, of the WCT will be inherently easier than a five day one.

Seven days is a popular choice as it allows for more time hiking the most challenging sections of the route.

The southern half of the trail, specifically between Walbran Creek and Gordon River, features the most strenuous terrain.

The forest sections on this part of this trail feel more like an obstacle course at times, with rocky and uneven surfaces, fallen trees, huge tree roots, thick bog, rocky surfaces and slippery boardwalks of varying condition.

If you usually hike on a regular trail at 3-4km/h, anticipate speeds of around 2km/h or less. If you’re a slow hiker, your speed may be 1km/h. Be very careful not to underestimate how long the southern sections take to hike.

Parks Canada advises against trying to hike between Gordon River and Camper Bay in one day for this reason.

Campgrounds

There are thirteen designated West Coast Trail campgrounds. Each of these camping areas is situated on a different stretch of coastline and has an individual look and feel.

Some campgrounds are more popular than others, a factor that is usually related to location.

Expect to see 15-25 tents at ‘high’ popularity campgrounds. The lesser used campgrounds usually have 5 tents or less.

The most popular WCT campgrounds are:

  • Michigan River
  • Darling River
  • Tsusiat Falls
  • Cribs Creek
  • Walbran Creek
  • Camper Bay
  • Thrasher Bay

If you like the idea of solitude, head for the quieter campgrounds. More information can be found in our WCT campground guide.

WCT Trailhead sign with information board, next to very tall, vertical ladder ascending cliff
The West Coast Trail’s Gordon River Trailhead

West Coast Trail thru-hiking itineraries

With all the above information in mind, let’s get on with the West Coast Trail itineraries!

I have put together 14 WCT itineraries, ranging from three days to eight days in length.

The first seven itineraries are for hikers planning to complete the entire West Coast Trail. The final seven are for hikers joining the WCT at the mid-point trailhead (Nitinaht Narrows).

I have listed most of these itineraries in the northbound direction (Gordon River to Pachena Bay). If you are hiking from Pachena Bay to Gordon River, just reverse the route.

Please note

In the below itineraries, I have noted the approximate kilometre distances as well as an estimate of moving time for each section.

This moving time estimation is a range e.g. 4 to 6 hours. It does not include specific breaks for lunch, snacks or eating at the Crab Shack.

  • If you are a strong hiker, the lower number would be most applicable
  • Slow or novice hikers should look at the higher number
  • If you consider your hiking pace to be pretty average, your moving time will likely fall in the middle of this estimate.
  • Consider yourself a very fast hiker? You may finish slightly ahead of this estimate
Hiker sign on tree trunk next to root system obstacle on the West Coast Trail
Roots and trees provide many obstacles between Gordon River and Thrasher Cove

8 day West Coast Trail itinerary (slow and steady)

With just over a week on the WCT, this trip plan is ideal for novice backpackers or hikers who like to take their time.

The most challenging sections are spread across the first four days, with two shorter days following the strenuous hike between Thrasher Cove and Camper Bay.

  • Day 1: Gordon River to Thrasher Cove – 6km, 3 to 6 hours
  • Day 2: Thrasher Cove to Camper Bay – 6.8/9km*, 4.5 to 8 hours
  • Day 3: Camper Bay to Cullite Cove – 4.2km, 2 to 4 hours
  • Day 4: Cullite Cove to Walbran Creek – 5km, 2.5 to 5 hours
  • Day 5: Walbran Creek to Cribs Creek – 10.5km, 3.5 to 6 hours
  • Day 6: Cribs Creek to Tsusiat Falls – 17.6km, 6 to 9 hours
  • Day 7: Tsusiat Falls to Darling River or Michigan Creek – 10.9/12.9km, 3.5 to 6 hours
  • Day 8: Darling River or Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay – 12/14km, 3 to 6 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

8 day West Coast Trail itinerary (off-beat)

This alternative 8 day WCT itinerary offers the chance to stay at quieter campgrounds and a way to break up the long stretch between Cribs Creek and Tsusiat Falls.

The latter is accomplished with a night at the Crab Shack (paid cabins, covered tent deck). There is, however, an additional fee.

Our own WCT itinerary was very similar to this one, though we did decide to stay at Klanawa River campground instead of Tsusiat Falls (after a swim in the waterfall!)

  • Day 1: Gordon River to Thrasher Cove – 6km, 3 to 6 hours
  • Day 2: Thrasher Cove to Camper Bay – 6.8/9km*, 4.5 to 8 hours
  • Day 3: Camper Bay to Walbran Creek – 9.2km, 5 to 8 hours
  • Day 4: Walbran Creek to Carmanah Creek – 6.9km, 2 to 4 hours
  • Day 5: Carmanah Creek to Crab Shack – 13.8km, 4 to 7 hours
  • Day 6: Crab Shack to Tsusiat Falls – 7.4km, 2 to 4 hours
  • Day 7: Tsusiat Falls to Tsocowis Creek – 8.1km, 2.5 to 4.5 hours
  • Day 8: Tsocowis Creek to Pachena Bay – 16.8km, 4 to 7 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

Back view of JR hiking with large backpack on brightly coloured seaweed on West Coast Trail
Hiking an easier section of the trail between Tsocowis Creek and Darling River

7 day West Coast Trail itinerary (most popular)

I would estimate that at least 50% hikers, if not more, follow this exact 7 day WCT itinerary. It features a steady hiking pace, with extra time allocated to the more difficult, southern sections of the trail.

If you like the idea of trail comradery, I’d definitely recommend this itinerary since you’ll likely to cross paths with the same hikers over the entire week.

  • Day 1: Gordon River to Thrasher Cove – 6km, 3 to 6 hours
  • Day 2: Thrasher Cove to Camper Bay – 6.8/9km*, 4.5 to 8 hours
  • Day 3: Camper Bay to Walbran Creek – 9.2km, 5 to 8 hours
  • Day 4: Walbran Creek to Cribs Creek – 10.5km, 3.5 to 6 hours
  • Day 5: Cribs Creek to Tsusiat Falls – 17.6km, 6 to 9 hours
  • Day 6: Tsusiat Falls to Darling River or Michigan Creek – 10.9/12.9km, 3.5 to 6 hours
  • Day 7: Darling River or Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay – 12/14km, 3 to 6 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

Damaged boardwalk crossing muddy bog section of the West Coast Trail. Some of the planks are missing
The shoreline bog sections of the WCT are always muddy, even in the height of summer. The boardwalks are in varying condition

7 day West Coast Trail itinerary (off-beat version)

If seven days sounds like the right amount of time on the WCT but you’d prefer to stay off the ‘standardized route’ (as above), perhaps this itinerary is the one for you.

With the exception of Thrasher Cove, all of the campgrounds on this schedule are used less often. If you’re lucky, you may only be camping with only a handful of other groups at each campground.

This West Coast Trail itinerary also includes one night at the Crab Shack (paid cabins, covered tent deck), which is a great way to break up the long stretch between Cribs Creek and Tsusiat Falls.

  • Day 1: Gordon River to Thrasher Cove – 6km, 3 to 5 hours
  • Day 2: Thrasher Cove to Cullite Cove – 11/13.2km*, 6 to 10 hours
  • Day 3: Cullite Cove to Bonilla Point – 10km, 4.5 to 7.5 hours
  • Day 4: Bonilla Point to Crab Shack – 15.7km, 5 to 7.5 hours
  • Day 5: Crab Shack to Klanawa River – 9.5km, 3 to 5 hours
  • Day 6: Klanawa River to Tsocowis Creek – 8.1km, 2.5 to 4.5 hours
  • Day 7: Tsocowis Creek to Pachena Bay – 16.8km, 4 to 7 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

6 day West Coast Trail itinerary

For some hikers, the standard seven day West Coast Trail itinerary is just a touch too long. The following trip plan is the most popular for hikers wanting a slightly shorter WCT experience.

The downside of this compromise is a very long day between Gordon River and Camper Bay. I would only recommend this for strong hikers, who are likely to be able to cover this challenging terrain in 7-9 hours.

When hiking southbound, you’ll need to remember that the last Gordon River ferry is at 3.30pm. A very early start at Camper Bay is therefore needed. Hiking northbound is a lot easier as the first ferry is at 8.30am.

  • Day 1: Gordon River to Camper Bay – 12.8/15km*, 7.5 to 13 hours
  • Day 2: Camper Bay to Walbran Creek – 9.2km, 5 to 8 hours
  • Day 3: Walbran Creek to Cribs Creek – 10.5km, 3.5 to 6 hours
  • Day 4: Cribs Creek to Tsusiat Falls – 17.6km, 6 to 9 hours
  • Day 5: Tsusiat Falls to Darling River or Michigan Creek – 10.9/12.9km, 3.5 to 6 hours
  • Day 6: Darling River or Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay – 12/14km, 3 to 6 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

JR standing on beach looking up at tall 'flowerpot' rock - a rock that has been eroded by the ocean, leaving trees and foliage at the top
We loved the ‘flowerpot’ rocks (caused by tidal erosion) near Bonilla Point

6 day West Coast Trail itinerary (off-beat version)

Looking for an off the beaten track adventure and not opposed to paying extra for camping?

This itinerary is my top pick for a six day West Coast Trail adventure. I would not, however, recommend it to slow or novice hikers as day 2 would likely prove difficult.

Having said that, the first few days of this trip plan are still more approachable compared to the previous schedule.

  • Day 1: Gordon River to Thrasher Cove – 6km, 3 to 6 hours
  • Day 2: Thrasher Cove to Cullite Cove – 11/13.2km*, 6 to 11 hours
  • Day 3: Cullite Cove to Carmanah Creek – 11.9km, 5 to 8 hours
  • Day 4: Carmanah Creek to the Crab Shack** – 13.8km, 4 to 7 hours
  • Day 5: Crab Shack to Tsocowis Creek – 15.5km, 4.5 to 7 hours
  • Day 6: Tsocowis Creek to Pachena Bay – 16.8km, 4 to 7 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it
**To stay at Ditidaht Comfort Camping instead, add additional 1-2 hours of hiking

5 day West Coast Trail itinerary

Hiking the West Coast Trail in just five days is possible, but you do need to be a strong, experienced hiker.

Even then, a 5 day WCT itinerary still involves long hiking days. It also doesn’t allow for much flexibility in the case of storms or creek/river flooding (more likely in May, June and September).

When hiking southbound (the opposite of the below itinerary), you’ll need to remember that the last Gordon River ferry is at 3.30pm. An early start at Camper Bay is therefore needed to cover the difficult terrain to Gordon River.

  • Day 1: Gordon River to Camper Bay – 12.8km/15km*, 7 to 13 hours
  • Day 2: Camper Bay to Walbran Creek – 9.2km, 5 to 8 hours
  • Day 3: Walbran Creek to Cribs Creek – 10.5km, 3.5 to 6 hours
  • Day 4: Cribs Creek to Klanawa Beach – 19.7km, 6 to 10 hours
  • Day 5: Klanawa Beach to Pachena Bay – 22.8km, 6 to 9 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

Close up of donkey engine structure on West Coast Trail in forest setting
Donkey engine on the West Coast Trail – these would have been used to build and maintain the Dominion Life Saving Trail

West Coast Trail midpoint entry itineraries

It is not necessary to traverse the entire 75km route to hike the West Coast Trail. Hikers also have the option to start at the mid-trail point, at Nitinaht Narrows.

This mid-trail trailhead offers excellent hiking opportunities for anyone who does not have the time, fitness or experience to hike the entire West Coast Trail.

Nitinaht Narrows is also the least popular trailhead, so it provides a ‘back-up’ for hikers who did not manage to book their first choice trailhead.

3 day Nitinaht Narrows to Pachena Bay itinerary

This short but sweet itinerary includes the most popular stops on the northbound route.

Staying at Michigan Creek or Darling River on the last night allows for a civilised start (8/9am), with enough time to catch the Gordon River bus at 1.45pm.

  • Day 1: Nitinaht Narrows to Tsusiat Falls – 7.4km, 2 to 3.5 hours
  • Day 2: Tsusiat Falls to Michigan Creek or Darling River – 12.9/10.9km, 3.5 to 5 hours
  • Day 3: Darling River or Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay – 12/14km, 3 to 6 hours
Side view of JR ascending elevated ladder near Tsusiat Falls
Climbing the ladders up to the trail from Tsusiat Falls

3 day Nitinaht Narrows to Pachena Bay itinerary (off-beat version)

An alternative version to the popular itinerary above, this route replaces Michigan Creek/Darling River with the quieter Tsocowis Creek campground.

This campground change extends the last day of hiking to Pachena Bay so you’ll need to get moving earlier.

  • Day 1: Nitinaht Narrows to Tsusiat Falls – 7.4km, 2 to 3.5 hours
  • Day 2: Tsusiat Falls to Tsocowis Creek – 8.1km, 2 to 3.5 hours
  • Day 3: Tsocowis Creek to Pachena Bay – 16.8km, 4 to 7 hours

4 day Nitinaht Narrows to Pachena Bay itinerary

Take your time with this longer Nitinaht Narrows to Pachena Bay itinerary, which features one extra night between Tsusiat Falls and Pachena Bay.

The WCT is a tricky trail to access (and reserve!), so why not spend a little longer enjoying it?

  • Day 1: Nitinaht Narrows to Tsusiat Falls – 7.4km, 2 to 3.5 hours
  • Day 2: Tsusiat Falls to Tsocowis Creek – 8.1km, 2 to 3.5 hours
  • Day 3: Tsocowis Creek to Darling River or Michigan Creek – 3km/4.8km, 1 to 3 hours
  • Day 4: Darling River or Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay – 12/14km, 3 to 6 hours
Log bridge leads away from camera in forest, with yellow Kilometre 63 sign next to trail
Kilometre 63 on the West Coast Trail

4 day Nitinaht Narrows to Gordon River itinerary

This southbound itinerary is popular with strong hikers on a time crunch.

I would only suggest it, however, to hikers with plenty of experience as it involves some long hiking days with challenging terrain.

If you choose this itinerary, be careful to time your last day correctly to avoid missing the last Gordon River ferry at 3.30pm.

  • Day 1: Nitinaht Narrows to Carmanah Creek – 13.8km, 4 to 7 hours
  • Day 2: Carmanah Creek to Walbran Creek – 6.9km, 2 to 4 hours
  • Day 3: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay – 9.2km, 5 to 8 hours
  • Day 4: Camper Bay to Gordon River – 12.8/15km*, 7.5 to 13 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

5 day Nitinaht Narrows to Gordon River itinerary

This is a more approachable southbound trip plan for WCT hikers with average fitness and experience. Each day involves no more than 8 hours of hiking.

  • Day 1: Nitinaht Narrows to Cribs Creek – 10.2km, 3 to 5 hours
  • Day 2: Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek – 10.5km, 3.5 to 6 hours
  • Day 3: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay – 9.2km, 5 to 8 hours
  • Day 4: Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove – 6.8/9km*, 4.5 to 8 hours
  • Day 5: Thrasher Cove to Gordon River – 6km, 3 to 6 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

View of a surge channel on the West Coast Trail, a narrow inlet where the ocean rushes in
Surge channel near Owen Point. Tides below 2.4m are needed to pass this area safely

5 day Nitinaht Narrows to Gordon River itinerary (off-beat version)

This alternative 5 day southbound midpoint itinerary utilises some of the quieter WCT campgrounds. It does, however, involve one pretty strenuous day (Cullite Cove to Thrasher Cove).

  • Day 1: Nitinaht Narrows to Carmanah Creek – 13.8km, 4 to 7 hours
  • Day 2: Carmanah Creek to Walbran Creek – 6.9km, 2 to 4 hours
  • Day 3: Walbran Creek to Cullite Cove – 5km, 2.5 to 5 hours
  • Day 4: Cullite Cove to Thrasher Cove – 11/13.2km*, 6 to 10 hours
  • Day 5: Thrasher Cove to Gordon River – 6km, 3 to 6 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

6 day Nitinaht Narrows to Gordon River itinerary (with Tsusiat Falls)

This 6 day WCT itinerary is my top recommendation for mid-point hikers heading to Gordon River. It involves hiking northbound for one night, before returning to Nitinaht Narrows and continuing southbound.

The unusual route offers the opportunity to see Tsusiat Falls, one of the highlights of the northern part of the trail.

Since you would be crossing Nitinaht Narrows twice, an additional ferry fee is required to hike this route. I believe the charge is $22/per person and it is payable at the Parks Canada office in Nitinaht Village (ask at your orientation).

  • Day 1: Nitinaht Narrows to Tsusiat Falls – 7.4km, 2 to 3.5 hours
  • Day 2: Tsusiat Falls to Cribs Creek – 17.6km, 6 to 9 hours
  • Day 3: Cribs Creek to Walbran Creek – 10.5km, 3.5 to 6 hours
  • Day 4: Walbran Creek to Camper Bay – 9.2km, 5 to 8 hours
  • Day 5: Camper Bay to Thrasher Cove – 6.8/9km*, 4.5 to 8 hours
  • Day 6: Thrasher Cove to Gordon River – 6km, 3 to 6 hours

*The shorter distance is the beach route, but favourable tides are required to hike it

Side view of JR standing on rocky coastal section of WCT
You can see why tides must be below 2.4m to hike from Thrasher Cove to Owen Point

Check out these other BC backpacking guides next:

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

The HBC Heritage Trail, from Hope to Tulameen

The Cape Scott Trail, Vancouver Island

Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park

Eva Lake, Mount Revelstoke National Park

The Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park

The Heather Trail, Manning Provincial Park

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